The Time is Now for Sharpley

The quarterback competition is priority No. 1 for the Notre Dame football team. There are four signal callers in the race, each with their own unique style. Head coach Charlie Weis was noncommittal on Monday about how the race was going during spring ball. Weis wants to get it from four to two after the Blue-Gold game. One of those players right in the mix is Evan Sharpley.

The junior from Marshall, MI is trying to outdo sophomores Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer and early enrollee Jimmy Clausen for the right to replace Brady Quinn. Just like Weis, Sharpley wasn't about to handicap the competition only five practices into spring ball.

"It's still early," Sharpley said. "We work well together. There's a good healthy competition. It's fun to go out there and see what each guy can bring to the table."

Sharpley has a little bit of a different role than the other three. He's not only a member of the football team but a part of the Irish baseball squad as well. Sharpley, a first baseman, is struggling a bit at the plate, registering only one hit in 18 at-bats this season.

There might be a good reason for this. Sharpley has to balance football, baseball and the tough academic environment at Notre Dame in a one-month period. Unlike last year, where he split time with both teams during the spring, Sharpley is attending all 15 football sessions this season. Sharpley attends baseball practices and games after his spring football obligations for the day are done. In 2006, he wasn't going to unseat Heisman Trophy candidate Brady Quinn. This year, Sharpley will get equal reps in spring ball to see if he has the qualities to lead the 2007 Irish. The schedule for Sharpley is hectic.

"It's been interesting," Sharpley said. "It's always an adjustment coming in and playing both sports. You have to balance the time between the two and go back and forth. I'm still getting used to it but it's getting a little easier."

Sharpley has one advantage over the others. The junior has an extra year of familiarity in Weis's system. Jones and Frazer have just one and Clausen is experiencing his first on-the-field go-around in the Notre Dame offense. As the backup to Quinn in 2006, Sharpley took the second-team reps and tried to soak in all the advice and knowledge Weis would tell his signal callers. Experience can only take a quarterback so far in a race of four talented players but every little advantage counts in a close competition.

"I'm the guy with the most experience," Sharpley said. "In that respect, I have a pretty good feel for the offense. Hopefully, I can help the younger guys and bring them along. It goes hand and hand. We are a team. When it comes down to it, whoever is on the field is the guy to lead us to victory. That's all we really care about is wins and losses. That's the bottom line."

Sharpley had a front row seat to watch Quinn the past two seasons. He got to see Quinn break school record after school record and handle the daily pressure of being the Notre Dame quarterback. Sharpley did get some playing time in 2006. The junior completed 1-of-2 passes for seven yards in eight games of action. Another player last year threw two passes and his name was Jeff Samardzija. "The Shark" didn't have a completion but it shows how many meaningful downs Sharpley was involved in. There's one aspect of Quinn's approach to the quarterback position that Sharpley hopes to emulate.

"I had an opportunity where I could sit back and watch what he had done," Sharpley said of Quinn. "I saw what made him great. I always liked his work ethic. He brought the same mentality everyday to practice. Whether we were watching film or lifting weights, it was always 110 percent. Whatever it was, he was in it to the full. If you can go at life like that, you'll be successful."

Quinn was also the unquestioned leader of the offense at the most important position on the field. This season, Travis Thomas and John Carlson will share the captain duties on offense. Regardless, a quarterback needs to exhibit leadership skills and it rates high with Sharpley.

"It's very important," Sharpley said. "It's really emphasized a lot. You are going to be the guy that other guys look towards. There are different types of leaders. There are rah-rah guys and others lead by example. But it has to be a person that your teammates look to in a key situation."

Quinn got the lion's share of the reps in practice last year. Sharpley had to mostly sit back and watch. Now, instead of being a spectator, the junior is getting meaningful, significant reps to show he's the man for the job.

"It obviously builds a lot of confidence," Sharpley said about the increased reps. "You get constant reps everyday and you can build on something from day to day. You can see one thing one day and the next day not make the same mistake. It really helps to have that consistency."

Sharpley has nine more practices and the Blue-Gold game to make an impression. It'll be a pressure-packed spring and he's aiming to get himself into that top two heading into the summer and fall camp. Sharpley wants to improve each day out and embrace the opportunity.

"You can look at it as pressure or to get better 15 times," Sharpley said. "That's what we're doing. We're going out and having fun. It's fun to able to go out and play. That's how you have to approach it. Maybe a little pressure is good but you have to have fun and be confident."


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